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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday Morning: Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

I have a lot fun trying to come up with interesting and thought-provoking topics to talk about each day, and for the most part, I can come up with ideas that are quite easy to discuss. After all, with the way that fashion trends, television programs, and movies constantly change, talking about pop culture never gets old.

There are some instances though where I admit to coming up with a thought drought, and coming up with ideas can be a struggle. So, sometimes, I ask people if they have some ideas for me. Ideas for topics that they would like to see and read about. And sometimes, people will send me ideas as well.

I do encourage this. Part of the reason for this blog is to cover a wide range of subjects and topics, and occasionally someone might bring up a subject that never would have come across my mind.

Today's blog entry is based on one of these requests, so thank you, Bailey, for the really great idea. And, for anyone else who has an idea for a topic for this blog, you can always leave those ideas in the comments page on this blog, or join the official fan page for the blog on Facebook to leave me your suggestions!

But now here was the problem with taking this suggestion. The idea I was given was for a television show that I had never seen one episode of. Ever.

But that was nothing that I couldn't overcome. I hadn't seen episodes of Jem and The Holograms, The Addams Family, or Alice for many, many years, and managed to do a blog entry for each of these.

And besides, every episode of this television series happens to be on YouTube, so if anything, I got to have a little bit of fun researching this television program that frightened children and teenagers for nearly an entire decade.

The show that I will be discussing in today's blog entry is the joint Canadian-American production 'Are You Afraid Of The Dark?'

A Cinar/Nickelodeon production, the program aired on both Nickelodeon in the United States and YTV in Canada. The actual premiere date for the show varies, depending on what region you happened to be living in. In Canada, for instance, the premiere of the show was the episode entitled 'The Tale Of The Twisted Claw', which was filmed in 1989. That episode aired in Canada on October 31, 1990. It wasn't until October 1991 that the same episode debuted in the United States.

The actual series run for both countries began on August 15, 1992. And what was interesting about Are You Afraid Of The Dark was that it actually aired in two separate stints. The first stint originally aired between 1992-1996. The show then took a hiatus for a couple of years before returning in 1999 for two more seasons. The show ran a total of seven seasons, and 91 episodes were produced. In 2006, the show was placed on DVD, and several books based on the series were published at the height of the show's popularity.

As a result of this long break, the show's main cast of characters rotated frequently, much like the trend was for other Canadian television programs such as You Can't Do That On Television, or Degrassi. During the first few seasons, the cast only lost a few members each season, and a few more would be brought back on in their place. By the 1999 revamp, only one cast member, Daniel DeSanto, would stay on (although original cast member Ross Hull made a reappearance in 2000).

What surprises me about Are You Afraid Of The Dark is just how many people seemed to have gotten their acting careers started in this show. Elisha Cuthbert (24) and Rachel Blanchard (Clueless: The Television Series) both had roles in the program as members of the 'Midnight Society' (and yes, I will be getting to what the Midnight Society is a little later in this entry), and some of the guest stars of the program had (or would have) star power back in the day.

Among some of these stars?

Ryan Gosling, Charles S. Dutton, Bobcat Goldthwait, Neve Campbell, Melissa Joan Hart, Hayden Christensen, Tatyana Ali, Tia and Tamera Mowry, Gilbert Gottfried, Tara Lipinski, and Jay Baruchel, just to name a few. Not bad for a children's program, eh?

Now let's get to what the show was all about.

I imagine that almost all of us can remember sitting around a campfire, telling ghost stories to the other people around them. I know I would take part in such activities while stuffing my face with S'mores and roasted hot dogs, each person trying to outdo the other person in trying to come up with the scariest stories. I relished activities like this, being the creative sort of person that I am.

That's basically what the show was about. You had a group of kids who would meet at a campfire each night to tell scary ghost stories. The group called themselves 'The Midnight Society', and each episode centered on one of the members of the group telling a story to the others.

How they went about doing this was by opening up each story with the statement “Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story...”.

At this point, the person would take out a handful of 'midnight dust' (which was basically nothing more than ordinary sugar) and tossed it in the fire to cause the flames to raise and to produce an eerie white smoke. The title of the story would then be superimposed over the campfire for the viewing audience as the storyteller says the title out loud.

That story would be shown as a live-action scene for the bulk of the episode. Consider it an episode within an episode so to speak. At the episode's conclusion, for most of the episodes, it would show a member of the Midnight Society throwing a red bucket of water over the campfire while declaring the meeting of the Midnight Society to be over. Occasionally, the ending would involve a sub-plot involving two or more of the members of the Midnight Society, but for the most part, the endings followed this formula. And most of the endings in Are You Afraid Of The Dark were happy endings, although there were some endings that weren't the case.

One of the things that I noticed about the show by watching various episodes is that depending on the person telling the story, the stories would each have their distinct theme, or have a recurring enemy appearing throughout the tales.

Let's take Gary, for instance, played by Ross Hull. As the founder of the Midnight Society, he has a keen interest in all things magic. Having a fascination with the magician Harry Houdini, many of his stories involve the subject of magic, including possession of objects, supernatural forces, and enchantment.

Tucker (Daniel DeSanto), Gary's younger brother, tends to tell stories that involve family members with a strained relationship, and having those relationships strengthen as the story goes on. Which could mirror the same relationship that Gary and Tucker share as brothers. His stories also seem to have the theme of people unknowingly unleashing evil into the world.

Even some of the more minor members of the society have their own distinct themes and methods of storytelling.

Betty Anne (Raine Pare-Coull) has a passion for stories involving the bizarre and twisted, and most of her stories are like a juvenile retelling of Twilight Zone episodes. Kiki (Jodie Resther) is sort of a tomboy type girl who picks on the other members of the group. Her stories usually involve the dangers of carelessness or deceitfulness, and the danger of having history repeating itself.

There's Sam (Joanna Garcia), who must be taking her obvious crush on Gary and peppering her stories with that crush, as most of her stories involve lost loves, and how love can survive anything, even death. You have Kristen (Rachel Blanchard) who likes to dress in costume for her stories, and her stories deal with spirits who have unfinished business with the living. And there's Frank (Jason Alisharan), a punkish-looking kid who never really had any sort of theme for his stories, except that in almost every single one he told, he would always have an appearance by the antagonistic Dr. Vink.

So you have a basic idea now of what kind of story one could be expected to hear based on who was telling the tale. It certainly made it easier for viewers to find their favourite stories, as all they really needed to know was who the storyteller was.

And, just what sorts of stories did these kids tell? Lots of them.

In the concluding paragraphs, I'll be posting links to four stories that really grabbed my attention when watching them, and I think these stories are probably considered to be four of the best.

As I said, while most of the endings of the series come to mostly happy resolutions, in some, the fate of the main character of the program is left unresolved, and sometimes the characters don't survive the story. Case in point, The Tale Of Vampire Town, where our vampire wannabe ends up experiencing a rather ironic fate.

Sometimes, the happenings of the members of the Midnight Society would influence the telling of the stories themselves. When Tucker was trying to blackmail his older brother after finding a love poem he wrote to Sam, it inspired Gary to come up with The Tale Of The Crimson Clown in response. Warning...this video is not for those who have a fear of will only serve to aggravate it more.

Most of the stories have at least one antagonist trying to play mind games with other people, or who have a hidden agenda. Most do. In The Tale Of The Prom Queen, however, there is no such antagonist. In fact, the ghostly spirit happens to reveal themselves in a way than nobody ever thought possible.

And sometimes, the stories have a little bit of a heartwarming nature to them that sometimes leaves the viewer choked up. I dare you to watch The Tale Of The Lonely Ghost without feeling a little bit of emotion. (I had to split the link in three parts, so watch where you click in the title, as they are listed in order...)

Those are just four of the ninety-one episodes though. Go on. Seek out the other eighty-seven if you dare. After watching them all, maybe you'll see that there's no reason to be afraid.

The dark isn't THAT scary...or is it?

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